I've given an Oscar-worthy performance: Anupam Kher
In this interview with us, 63-year-old Kher fields questions on the controversies surrounding the film, his political inclinations, and how he prepared for the part of Dr Manmohan Singh
Veteran actor Anupam Kher portrays Indian economist and former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the upcoming film, The Accidental Prime Minister. Directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte and written by Mayank Tiwari, the film is an adaptation of a 2014 political memoir written by Sanjaya Baru, who served as Manmohan Singh’s media advisor and official spokesperson between 2004 and 2008.
In this interview with us, 63-year-old Kher fields questions on the controversies surrounding the film, his political inclinations, and how he prepared for the part of Dr Manmohan Singh.
The Accidental Prime Minister has been slammed as a propaganda exercise ahead of the 2019 elections. Your film — along with some other upcoming releases — has rekindled the art-vs-politics debate in India. Do you think there should be a separation between the two?
Why should art be separated from politics? We had Ronald Reagan as the President of the United States of America. In South Indian states, several chief ministers have been actors. An artist is an individual first and then a professional. In any case, this debate has nothing to do with me. I am not holding any political post., neither am I a member of any political party. I support Narendra Modi and I talk about India. The problem is, when you talk about India, people think you have political inclinations. I have no hidden agenda. However, nobody is apolitical; anyone who votes supports a political party.
What do you make of the reaction from certain factions of the Congress Party towards your film?
It doesn't bother me. It's helping the film, in fact. If the film is bad, this whole hype will fall flat on our face. But if it’s good, it will all take off like you can't imagine. We live in an era where anyone can throw gaalis at anyone. I did MS Dhoni: The Untold Story in which we showed people burning effigies. Even Gandhi has not been above criticism. It all speaks about the vibrancy and democracy of our country.
But we’ve also had instances of theatres getting vandalised, and protestors making violent threats on television. Censor-certified films have also been banned in some states over concerns of public safety…
Uska kya kar sakte hai? I'm not saying I support all this, but what can we do? It doesn't matter. Right now, I am in a celebratory mood for having finished The Accidental Prime Minister. We have come up with a path-breaking film that will change the scenario of Indian cinema in terms of realistic portrayal of political leaders. The film captures a part of our history by taking real names. Years later, people will remember The Accidental Prime Minister as the film that started the trend of taking real names.
Black Friday took some real names in 2004 and got into trouble…
I was the censor board chief at the time who passed that film. On the record, I am telling you this. Both Jhamu Sughand and Anurag Kashyap approached me and said, "You are an educated person." I then called a committee and said we needed to pass this film without any cuts. I told them that if he (Kashyap) has made a film, we should release it.
Did your perception of Manmohan Singh change while doing this film?
Yes, it did. That's what growth is all about. Spending a couple of years on a character makes you see things differently. Our intention with this film is not to make Manmohan Singh feel small. Sanjaya Baru has written his book with a lot of love and reverence, and that is what will come across. What he has written is the truth. The whole nation knows how the former Prime Minister was treated by the First Family of the so-called political system. Why are we suddenly denying it? Just because we now see a picture of Rahul Gandhi feeding a cake to Manmohan Singh? It's the same Rahul Gandhi who tore up that ordinance in a press conference (in 2013) while the Prime Minister was airbound.
From my point of view, The Accidental Prime Minister is a love-story between Sanjaya Baru and Manmohan Singh. It's about a relationship of togetherness and bonding and how it became dirty because of the politics around it. They did not want Sanjaya Baru around because he was making Manmohan Singh powerful in front of the media; this did not suit certain people.
You’ve compared your performance in the film to Daniel Day-Lewis's in Lincoln (2012) and Ben Kingsley's in Gandhi (1982).
Yes, I think mine is an Oscar-worthy performance.
You seem pretty confident.
Yes. When you have done well na, no controversy bothers you. It bothers you only when you haven't done well. You think, ‘Arey yaar mera jhoot pakda na jaye’. Even if I'm saying it myself, I am brilliant in this film. Just like I say about my role in Saarhansh (1984), nobody could have portrayed Dr Manmohan Singh as brilliantly as I have in The Accidental Prime Minister.
What was the most challenging aspect of this role?
I saw a news item of Manmohan Singh and tried to walk like him. It was a disaster. I practised for a week and it was still not close. I told my producer and director that I will need at least six months before we can begin to shoot. I spent those six months watching hours and hours of public footage of Dr. Singh. But the most difficult part was the voice. We needed to lip-sync the dialogues live; dubbing it later wouldn't have yielded the same effect. So I went back to my initial days in drama school where I would rehearse endlessly — and I finally achieved Manmohan’s voice correctly for the film.